WEST ORANGE, NJ – Susan Palmucci of West Orange has become a guardian angel of sorts this holiday season. Or maybe you could call her the leader of a group of angels in the West Orange area.
Over the course of less than a month, she and others helped two families who desperately needed it. But to hear her tell it, the people in West Orange and surrounding areas who answered her requests for donations of money and goods are the real angels.
“I’m just trying to do my part,” she said.
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On Nov.12, Palmucci found out that after a year-and-a-half wait, a former student and her family had finally been given public housing in Newark, where Palmucci teaches. The family has nine children and they were thrilled to be given someplace to call home.
But, when Palmucci went to visit them, “What I saw made me very sad,” she said. “The kids were so happy but they were all sleeping on blankets on the floor. No furniture, no kitchen appliances, little food…. but it was theirs.”
Palmucci said she was moved to action because “everyone can be vulnerable to changes in their life.”
“It could happen at any time,” she said. “I teach in Newark, tutor seven days a week; I’m comfortable in my life, not rich, but comfortable, but that could change any day.”
Palmucci reached out to Facebook contacts in the West Orange 411 group for donations….furniture, bedding, clothes, appliances….she said that “anything would be great.” She said she never expected the response she would get. In a week’s time—people reached out to her with all kinds of goods….which presented a new problem.
“How on Earth was I going to collect all this stuff and transport it?,” she asked.
U-Haul of East Orange came to the rescue. The company was contacted about a donation of a truck for a day, which they gave her, and Palmucci, her daughter and niece set out to go to 43 houses for their donations. They collected so much that the truck was full and they just couldn’t get to everyone who pledged.
“When we pulled up to the public housing unit, the kids came running out. As we opened the back door of the truck, one of the girls squealed...”oooo, we have beds.”
"I got a big lump in my throat,” she said. “Doesn't everyone have a bed to sleep in? It is the small things that are huge to this family. The parents were so grateful.”
Palmucci found out that the generosity to that family continued into the next week. The mother met her at school and told her someone donated a bag full of toys to the family, and tucked inside a greeting card were four $100 ShopRite gift cards and happy holiday wishes.
While this sounds like a great ending to a story—Palmucci didn’t know there was more help needed. Days later, she met someone outside the supermarket who she hadn’t seen in a while—someone she calls “a great woman and great mom.” She found out that this woman and her family had lost everything they had financially, and that she was living in a motel with her two children.
“I’m going to help you,” Palmucci told the woman. “I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m going to help you.”
Ad help she did—Palmucci started a “Go Fund Me” donation site for the family, which she announced on many Facebook sites. She then began collecting gift cards and any other donations. So far, she has raised a total of about $500, plus gift cards—and she is just getting started..
Palmucci said that both stories show just how vulnerable we all can be at a moment’s notice.
“What the heck happened?,” she said. “He worked, she was a stay-at-home mom with two kids. Suddenly, you need help. You don’t know who to call for assistance, who to reach out to.”
And the story came full circle. Palmucci connected with the first woman she helped, and that women “paid it forward.”
“She gave me some phone numbers and places to call and told me who to call for free coats and boots,” she said.
However, a modest Palmucci still gives the credit to the town she lives in.
“I could not be more proud of the residents of West Orange,” she said. “They took the time to donate from their homes and give to a family in need just in time for the holidays. I say this not to say what I did, but to encourage others to do the same. My heart is full this holiday.”